My next book for my ReadIndies month is A Mathematician’s Lament by Paul Lockhart, published by Bellevue Literary Press. A book I was fortunate to stumble upon at a local mini library/book swap.
The author is a research mathematician who began teaching in schools, and his lament centres on how mathematics education is focused on boring, repetitive, technical exercises, rather than seeing mathematics as an art form.
A good rant by someone who is passionate and knowledgable about a topic is usually fun to read, and this short book is no exception. While he discusses the problems in the US education system, it is recognizable to all of us who have wondered how the creative and beautiful subject that is mathematics, can be taught in such a boring way in schools. His solutions may be somewhat extreme, but that makes it a great starting point for discussions. All in all I found it both interesting and thought-provoking.
The publisher also seems promising, focused as they are on books at the intersection between arts and science. Having enjoyed this book I went to their website and immediately added three more titles to my wish-list.
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For my next indieread I selected a WW2 memoir, Varje fredag framför porten (Every Friday by the gate) by Wanda Heger.
The memoir begins during the German occupation of Norway during WW2, when Wanda Heger’s father was arrested and sent to Germany. Thanks to his family connections he was eventually released, but only under the condition that he and his family stayed in Germany. Frustrated by the forced exile Wanda Heger and her siblings began visiting Norwegian prisoners, eventually locating the Sachenhausen concentration camp. At this time official humanitarian organizations were barred access to the camp, but a young Norwegian woman bringing food packages to her countrymen must have seemed fairly harmless, and she managed to get into the outer part of the camp where she became a weekly visitor. While there she could find out names and prisoner numbers of the Norwegian prisoners and have some careful secret communication with them.
From this rather simple beginning the organization gradually grew and Norwegian prisoners were traced also to other concentration camps. The prisoner lists created from the information made it possible to send some food and medicine to the camps and were also important for the Swedish-Danish White Buses rescue mission during late WW2, a rescue mission in which Wanda Heger and the group around her also took active part.
I found this an unusually inspiring WW2 memoir, perhaps because it focused on aid rather than death, and because they were so successful. I would really recommend it but unfortunately it has not been translated into English (but to French and German).
The memoir was published by Bakhåll förlag, one of my favourite Swedish indie publishers. Bakhåll förlag has also published A Maid Among Maids, which I have previously reviewed.
I have long wished that I loved Persephone books. The ambition of publishing lost books, mostly by women writing in the first half of the 20th century, is great, and the books are published as attractive soft cover volumes. The quality is a bit variable but that is not the main problem either, I gladly read books by much worse authors if the plot includes a murder. Instead I fear that it is a matter of taste, having previously tried four of them I found three rather boring. The fourth, Miss Buncle’s book, was a lightweight comfort read, but really rather sweet. That was the only one I kept.
However, it being Read IndependentPublishers Month, I thought I would give them one final chance, this time with Miss Pettigrew lives for a day, their bestseller. The story is a classical Cinderella story about poor and jobless Miss Pettigrew who accidentally ends up in a world of glitz and glamour. Hardly an original story, but the Cinderella trope is popular for a reason, and the result is rather charming and uplifting. A lightweight read, with a few casually racist remarks of the kind common in books from the 1930s, but other than that I did enjoy it.
While I am still not really a converted Persephone fan, they do have many loyal followers, so if you do enjoy early 20th century fiction you might want to give them a try. They have a clear publishing profile so if you like one of them there is a good chance that you will like several other.
Bored of sitting at home all the time? Perhaps you want to visit my favourite market? Jokkmokk’s winter market is held in northern Sweden every February. It is famous for the cultural events, with skilled artisans and interesting concerts, and it is especially interesting if you are interested in Sami artists and artisans.
Karen and Lizzy are currently hosting Reading Independent Publishers Month, which seems like a good excuse to continue my Focus on the indies series, this time featuring Folio Society.
If the content of a book is the only thing of importance to you this publisher have little to offer. Almost all it publishes is readily available elsewhere and for less cost. It is also a rather conservative publisher, focused primarily on well-known classics and somewhat more modern books with a strong following, so not a great place to start if you want to expand your reading. However, outside of the exclusive private presses, few publishers care more about books as physical objects than Folio Society do. With interesting designs, great illustrations, sewn binding, quality papers and carefully selected fonts, their books are a treat to handle and read. I probably rate any book I read in a Folio edition slightly higher than I otherwise would, just because they are so pleasant to handle.
I first found Folio Society a few years ago when I was looking for a good replacement of a favourite book of mine, Fermat’s Last Theorem, which was falling apart. Since then I have gotten myself a bit of a collection, mostly of titles I expect to read again and again. With book illustration otherwise mostly kept for children’s books and many publishers cutting corners on binding and paper quality, I do appreciate that there are some who take quality seriously. I must admit that I have almost stopped buying normal hardcover books as they are still rather expensive but without the quality to match. If I really want a nice edition of a book I will rather pay for one that will last. (Fortunately for my book budget I still happily buy normal softcover books and tattered second hand volumes, as for them the lack of physical quality is properly reflected in the price).
Pros: Beautiful design, usually illustrated (thus supporting interesting book illustrators), high quality. A pleasure to read.
Cons: Usually (much) more expensive and space demanding (thicker paper, larger fonts, slipcases…) than alternative editions. Can be addictive and highly damaging to book budgets.
Recent reviews of books published by Folio Society
I was in the mood for some classical crime and as I had none unread I went for a reread of Dorothy Sayers’ Strong Poison. The mystery was of course still good, I find that Sayers’ novels work well also on a reread, but what struck me particularly this time was the sweet omelette eaten in one of the scenes. A sweet omelette with jam, is that really a thing? All the omelettes I have had up to now have been salt and savoury.
This called for an experiment. Unfortunately the description in the book was not really a enough for a recipe, so I picked the easiest one I could find online instead. In it 1 egg, 1 teaspoon of sugar and 1 table spoon of flour was beaten together in a cup, fried in butter and served directly with berries or jam. Definitely tasty!
I am sure the more advanced recipes I found would have made it even better, but it was good enough to convince me that sweet omelettes are a thing, and that they make for a very nice snack. Thank you Dorothy Sayers!
Peirene Press is one of my favourite publishers. They specializes in high quality, short format (less than 200 pages), translated fiction, mostly from Europe. More importantly, I have found almost all of the ones I have read to be really good. They can be bleak, and frequently pushes me a bit outside of my reading comfort zone, but, thanks to their short lengths, it never gets too daunting.
Their latest title, The Pear Field by Nana Ekvtimishvili, is no exception. It centres around the children in the Residential School for Intellectually Disabled Children, basically an orphanage in the outskirts of Tbilisi. The main character is 18-year-old Lela who have stayed on after finishing the school and who acts kind of as a big sister to all the younger kids. While parts of the story are rather bleak, there is also a warmth in the relations between the children which lend some hope to it, and the writing is of the high quality I expect from a Peirene Press novel. Overall a good read, and probably my first one from Georgia.
Thank you Karen and Lizzy for hosting Reading Independent Publishers Month!
Being stuck in one place has at least been good for my reading. Not since I started keeping track, have I ever read so much in a January as I did this year. Twenty-two books so far, by authors born in twelve countries, and I may very well read more this weekend. Perhaps I even read too much, I’m sure that several of the books I read deserved a more careful read than they got, but my mind has recently been more suited for fast, frantic, reads, than for slow and careful ones.
Progress on my reading challenges
I just finished Ariel by Sylvia Plath from my Classics club reading list. I ought to review it properly for the challenge, but as I read it I realized that I’m not yet a good enough poetry reader to really understand it, so this short note will have to do. I can not say I really liked it, I kept feeling that there was a point but that I missed it, but I was at least intrigued enough to feel that I should try a reread in the future.
My latest read is Pennskaftet by Elin Wägner, a novel about the Swedish suffragette movement, written by one of the actual key suffragettes. First published in 1910 the novel was written as the fight for equal voting rights was still being fought. It would take until 1919 before Swedish women got the full right to vote, and until 1921 before the first election in which they could use it. This of course makes the novel particularly interesting to read as a time document. Although fictionalized it gives an interesting insider view into the movement. Also interesting were the portraits of some of the different types of women drawn to the movement, often from the growing group of educated self-supporting women.
The novel is occasionally distracted by arguing the cause, but it still works well as a novel. The focus is clearly on the movement but it included some excellent portrayals of women friendship and a sweet romance, which gave it balance. It also has some for the time rather daring opinions on sexual morals, which I found uplifting. All in all I really enjoyed it. It has been published in English as Penwoman.
It is, finally, a New Year, and thus time for my final reading statistics post of 2020. All in all it has at least been a good reading year, in total I finished 141 books in 2020 (123 in 2019, 118 in 2018 and 99 in 2017), 63 by a woman, 76 by a man and 2 by multiple authors. Although the increase in books read may be partly due to a tendency to select less challenging reads and a higher proportion of comfort reads.
I may not have travelled very far physically in 2020, but fortunately my reading had no such problems. As in the previous years books by authors from UK (47), US (43) and Sweden (18) dominated my reading, but I have managed to read books written by authors from 23 countries (22 in 2019, 27 in 2018 and 21 in 2017), which I am fairly happy with.
The thing around your neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Even though I haven’t been very active this year, writing only 19 blog posts, book blogging remains my primary place for bookish discussions, so I am very happy for all of you who keep visiting and commenting, thank you!